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Launch: Harley-Davidson Street 500

It was a long gestation, but the Street 500 has finally lobbed in Australia as a LAMS entry point into the Harley-Davidson family

All-new motorcycle platforms – they don’t come around too often, especially from Harley-Davidson. That’s why the Street 500 and 750 from the Motor Company are a big deal, and even more so with the paradigm shift away from the traditional reliance on the baby boomer dollar to get them through.

This time, novices and women are a particular focus for the American juggernaut – as well as those just in the business of commuting — and in Australia that equates to the 494cc Street 500, which is now on sale priced at $9995 rideaway. The Street 750 won’t be coming Down Under.
There’s no doubt that Harley-Davidson would love a Street 660 in its midst – the upper capacity limit for LAMS bikes in Australia – to really make a power-packed statement, but that doesn’t mean the Street 500 isn’t going to get the job done. Far from it, and with about 300 deposits already set down for the new bike when we rode it in late December 2014 (a fair percentage of them women) it’s a fair indication that Harley-Davidson’s onto a commuter crowd pleaser, complete with plenty of bespoke and generic accessories to further individualise the look.
And what will those early adopters be in for? As expected, and confirmed after a gentle, easy-paced raced ride through Melbourne and the Yarra Valley, it’s a competent, willing, responsive, dependable and entirely predictable machine. A solid, confidence-inducing package that takes very little time to acclimatise to. And it starts with the light throttle and clutch.
No surprises about its user-friendliness, really, although the Revolution X water-cooled, SOHC, eight-valve 494cc V-twin is a better performer than I was expecting. There’s modest power, 36.2hp (27kW) at 7100rpm, but the maximum torque of 40Nm kicks in way lower at 3500rpm. That’s great form for a learner, anyone really, and with the gearing in the first two gear quite low the engine builds up tempo quite quickly. Click the sweet-changing gearbox into third and the momentum continues, with sixth gear not the tallish beast that you get on Harley-Davidson’s traditional cruiser fare. But let’s not get too excited: the gearbox is still given quite a thorough workout on the strength of its 36hp ceiling, and the worst judgment is trying to compare the engine alongside the 100-plus cubic inch fare from Harley-Davidson, because they are diametrically opposed.
The Revolution X engine on the Street 500 only emits a few light vibes, and certainly nothing that became in the way of intrusive during the country outing.
My only issue with the engine was the light shudder I got through the clutch during a few take-offs, but it didn’t seem to afflict my riding colleagues.
Harley-Davidson claims fuel economy of about 3.7lt/100km for the belt-driven Street 500, which we couldn’t put a conclusive test as the bikes were loaded straight on the truck soon as we were finished. But from what we’re hearing there are no porkies being told, which equates to well over 300km for a tank. Fuel capacity is 13.1 litres, and the bike has a lockable fuel cap as well, a security measure that isn’t common in Harley-Davidson land.
The seat height on the Street 500 is just 709mm, so reach to the ground is just about universal. That alone creates an aura of confidence, which really only leaves the gap between the seat and footpegs worthy of an extended mention.
The distance between them is quite short, so if you’re on the taller side your knees will sit quite high and dwarf the tear-drop fuel tank. That isn’t a problem per se, or necessarily uncomfortable, but just a fact of life as you’re buzzing through city streets.
The seating triangle – formed between the seat, handlebars and footpegs – promotes quite an upright riding stance, and there’s ample bend in the arms for taking ownership of the 218kg bike – about 35kg less than the 883 Iron. The seat has been fashioned in quite a saddle-type arc, and is quite soft and comfortable, and only really begins to bear some teeth after a couple of hundred clicks.
The mirrors are set at quite a narrow angle, and vision isn’t the best I’ve seen in the LAMS sphere. But the flipside is that compact makes it easier to glide the Street 500 through city traffic.
Single-disc brakes traditionally require a bit of effort, and the Street 500 is no different with some conviction required to haul it up. But with the absence of anti-lock braking – the only bike in the Harley-Davidson fleet without the safety feature – that’s probably not such a bad thing. They certainly won’t bite and catch you out.
The rear brake pedal, a non-adjustable item, does sit quite low so you really have to make a deliberate effort with your foot to get things moving.
The Street 500 tracks on 17-inch (front) and 15-inch Michelin Scorcher rubber, mated to rather plush suspension. It’s what the doctor ordered, not in a dynamic or flexible fashion, but in the ability to soak up low-compression hits.
Instrumentation is basic, with an analogue speedo and an LCD screen for two trip meters and the assortment of standard lights. I’d like to see a gear position indicator and clock added to the LCD mix.
The Street 500’s build quality gets a pass mark, with some errant plumbing here, and there and quite a few of the press bikes mangled brackets on the exhaust from scraping. Depending on your level of sensitivity that could be simply annoying or a deal breaker, but the fact remains that Harley-Davidson has produced a bike which has all the fundamentals in place, and the credibility aspect of buying into the American family cannot be ignored.
The Street 500 will stamp its authority on the LAMS market – to what extent we’ll just have to wait and see.
Type: Liquid-cooled, Revolution X V-twin
Capacity: 494cc
Bore x stroke: 69mm x 66mm
Fuel system: Electronic fuel injection
Claimed maximum power: 36.2hp (36.7ps/27kW) at 7100rpm
Claimed maximum torque: 40Nm at 3500rpm
Type: Six speed
Final drive: Belt
Front suspension: Non-adjustable telescopic forks
Rear suspension: Twin shocks, adjustable for preload
Front brakes: Single disc
Rear brake: Single disc
Wheels: Black, seven-spoke cast aluminium
Tyres: Front 100/80-17, rear 140/75-15
Claimed wet weight: 222kg
Rake: 32 degrees
Trail: 115mm
Seat height: 709mm
Wheelbase: 1534mm
Fuel capacity: 13.1 litres
Price: $9995 rideaway
Colours: Black
Bike supplied by: Harley-Davidson Australia,
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited kilometres
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